11/3/16On Monday morning Kyle and I turned left off the Mississippi River towards the Yazoo River. One mile later we arrived at downtown Vicksburg. Finding a safe but very muddy spot to pull Solvi up on her rollers, we got everything situated to head into town. We hiked the mile and a half to the County Market where we did a major re-supply as the 9 day stretch left us with only a few food items left. As usual the walk back left us carrying 40-50lbs packs as we trudged back to Solvi. We were happy to find that the park just a few hundred yards from where Solvi was beached had water so that part of our re-supply was simple. Next was a run to Wal-Mart to get stove fuel and a few other odds and ends. A wonderfully kind man named Layne who is a paddler on the river and a part of Quapaw Canoe Company lives in Vicksburg and gave us a ride to Wal-Mart. He also showed us around the town a bit and gave us all sorts of information about the river. It was an enjoyable couple of hours spent with Layne. Sharing stories and experiences with a fellow river paddler is always interesting, fun, and full of learning. Plus the relationship formed is a quick one due to being kindred spirits. Thank you Layne for the River Magic!
The rest of that day and the following day were spent exploring the town of Vicksburg. I found it to be a cool little river town with a cute Main Street lined with brick buildings and lofts above the shops and restaurants. There is a flood wall that lines the edge of town near the river. Being massive and made of cement the town did a great job of putting large murals on the wall with plaques giving information on the history of Vicksburg. On Tuesday we spent the entire afternoon wandering aimlessly in and out of shops, chatting with locals, and resting on benches along the Main Street. That evening we had some drinks on the 11th floor of a building at the restaurant 10 South. Overlooking the town and river valley below we chatted quietly as the sun went down over the river. Both nights in Vicksburg we slept in the boat pulled up on the muddy bank. It was cozy and comfortable and I was thankful our tent wasn’t on the muddy shore!
Yesterday morning we rowed away from Vicksburg and headed about 8 miles South before stopping. The wind was gusting up to 20mph from the South and we didn’t feel like dealing with it. We found a nice sandy beach and Kyle spent the afternoon reading while I explored. I came across a beaver, 3 deer, and about 5 turtles during my exploring- so awesome!! Cooking potatoes and green beans over the fire we played games, listened to music, and conversed as the sun went down.
It is currently 11am and Kyle is rowing us. To my left there is a tow boat (I recently learned they are tow boats, not tug boats) pushing 48 empty barges. The whole rig is massive and Kyle is attempting to take a picture, but the scale just doesn’t show through in a photo. We are hoping to travel about 35 miles today and 35 miles tomorrow to make it into Natchez while the Post Office is still open. Kyle is turning 30 on Sunday and he has a couple birthday packages there waiting for him 🙂
After Natchez we only have about 60 miles left on the Mississippi before turning right on the Atchafalaya. We are both very much looking forward to the change of pace. Check out this cool video about the Atchaf’ here: https://vimeo.com/136154973
As I sit down to write for the first time in a couple days I find myself sitting under a sun shade Kyle set up for us. Laundry is drying and blowing in the breeze to my right and the river is calm and beautiful to my left. Kyle sits in his camp chair a couple feet away from me scribbling intently in his notebook while I use the cooler as a table for my iPad and keyboard. The last couple days have been spent exploring Natchez and meeting new friends. We arrived in Natchez on Friday afternoon after a marvelous day of sailing 35 miles with the wind behind us. It was the first time in a week we had sailed and due to the wind direction we were thrilled to have the sail up and full pushing us along. Unsure of where to pull Solvi up to access the town we stopped at the first sandy spot we saw that looked close to the town. Very soon we found it was not sand, but instead mud covered in a thin layer of sand. Therefore I found myself stepping off the boat and saying “It’s sandy!” and then taking one more step and finding myself quite literally up to my mid-calf in mud. I struggled to get out of the mud while trying to find the best place to pull Solvi up. Once we decided on a place to pull Solvi up we began the ridiculous process of attempting to blow up her rollers and pack down the mud to make it less steep. With each step we carefully planted our feet to make sure we wouldn’t sink down two feet into the goop below. Unfortunately it was much harder than we anticipated and at one point both of my legs were so deep in the mud I couldn’t get out without Kyle’s help. Sometimes it is frustrating, and my initial reaction is to be upset and annoyed about the mud. But the reality is that it isn’t a big deal. It’s dirt, it comes off with water, and if I want to go into Natchez this is what I need to do. Anyway, after fighting for at least 20 minutes to get Solvi up onto solid ground we then had to figure out how to climb up the hill in front of us to get into town. We climbed up a hill and found ourselves in a parking lot of a casino. Walking through the parking lot and heading towards the Post Office it was clear we weren’t welcome at the casino. Although no one said anything directly to us, the security guards and front door people were not thrilled with us climbing up from the river and walking through their very secure casino grounds. Therefore after retrieving the packages we attempted to get to Solvi a different way. This led us to a small gate that had a “No Trespassing” sign on it. Solvi was just down the hill from the gate and Kyle suggested we just walk to Solvi and then leave Natchez; clearly we weren’t feeling very welcome. He later told me that I looked like I was going to cry as I said to him, “I have never in my life trespassed. I can’t go through that gate!” In reality the entire area was rather abandoned and it was clear that others used the trail to go fishing down by the river. Regardless, the rule follower in me had an extremely hard time with the entire situation. “Just go. I want to get out of here, go I’ll just follow you” I said to Kyle defeated and tired. We walked quickly back to Solvi and then once again were greeted by deep mud. Our plan was to head down to the South end of town and see if we could find a better spot for the boat, and if not then just continue on to a sandbar. The entire situation was difficult and a bit ridiculous. Between the mud, the security guards, and the no trespassing sign I was feeling displaced. Everything during that hour was hard, tiring, and uncomfortable. But I pushed through with a positive attitude and it paid off. I am thankful I didn’t quit or give up, because believe me that would have been way easier than what we went through, but in a small way the situation caused some growth from within. The ability to adapt and be flexible in such situations is something that will bleed over into other aspects of life.
Fortunately after rowing a quarter mile to the other end of town we not only found a perfect spot for Solvi but were also welcomed by a group of friendly folks. As I rowed us towards the patch of sand we spotted in the binoculars a group of people at the bar on the river’s edge were hollering at us and telling us to stop. We were so relieved to find a flat sandy spot (real sand!) and quickly pulled Solvi up on her rollers, for the second time. After securing her and figuring out where we would set up our tent later, we headed towards the group we had seen just a few minutes before. Within two minutes of arriving at the bar I had a cold beer in my hand that a kind gentleman bought me and was conversing with all sorts of new people. Five minutes after arriving at the bar I felt as though I was with old friends as we laughed, joked, and got to know each other. And just like that, the discomfort, displacement, and difficulty of the previous two hours dissipated completely leaving me fully present enjoying the new company.
I had always heard the term “southern hospitality” and heard about how nice people in the south were, but I must say experiencing it first hand is a completely different experience. The folks in Natchez Mississippi are some of the kindest, warmest, and hospitable people we have met. Kyle and I spent our entire night at the bar where we first saw the people waving from the river, and we made so many friends so quickly that it blew me away. One man had lost his home during Hurricane Katrina which is something I have always been curious about. When the hurricane hit I heard so much about it from the news and media, but never had a I met someone who it impacted so directly. Being that he was the only person I had met who experienced the severity of the disaster I had a lot of questions. This man was so thoughtful and carefully answered each question I had. He shared some really heart-felt stories with me that were clearly not easy to share. The entire time we talked he looked me in the eyes, listened intently, and was never once distracted by a phone or other stimuli. What was even more amazing is that he greeted and said goodbye to at least 5 people the entire time we were talking but not once did his eye contact and attention waiver from our conversation. There were many other interactions like this throughout the evening and as the night went on we met more friends, shared stories, and I must say I heard more jokes then I had ever heard. As I write this I find myself typing and then erasing, typing, erasing, etc. I am struggling to find the words to explain the depth and kindness I experienced during each interaction that evening. It was special and something I won’t forget. It was also Kyle’s birthday celebration so I was feeling thankful we were both enjoying ourselves so much. We were able to order a big fancy pizza and salad and then shared the leftovers with our new friends. Thank you to Patti and Rick for providing such a wonderful dinner!
Anyway, the next day we emerged from our tent and had one intention for the entire day: find rubber boots. The Atchafalaya and the coast between Louisiana and Florida is known to be muddy, marshy, and wet. Therefore Kyle and I decided we need to invest in some rubber boots. As we left our camp site by the river we walked past the bar we were at the night before and were surprised to see many familiar faces! It was so fun walking up the street and having people to shake hands with, laugh about the night before, and who made us feel like we were at home. Amazing. After asking around and calling different places we found out that Wal-Mart was our best bet. Problem being that Wal-Mart was 3.5 miles away. Well, our solution to that problem was just to walk! We are hikers, backpackers, and have spent countless nights walking the beach back in Florida, 3.5 miles couldn’t be that bad. But what we didn’t realize is that the muscles gained from rowing are very different than muscles needed for walking. And being that we live on the river on a small boat we really don’t walk long distances. Needless to say as we finally approached the Wal-Mart we were both dragging our feet and discussing how to find a ride home. After successfully finding rubber boots and learning about the “Transit Bus” from the cashier, we waited outside for our $5 ride back to the boat. We laughed at ourselves for walking 3.5 miles when we could have paid $5 for a ride, oh well it was an adventure 🙂
The rest of the day was spent exploring Natchez a bit further, walking on the Natchez Trail (yes more walking!) and eventually ending up at a Blues Lounge. During our exploring we found a store on Silver Street, which is the road down by the river, and met Gayle. She is in the video of the Atchafalaya I provided above and has a wonderful little boutique gift shop. Kyle and I both really enjoyed chatting with her as she told us that we were in for a treat going down the Atchaf’. We really appreciated the first hand knowledge and hope to cross paths with her again. Our night ended fairly early as we were both exhausted from the walking of the day and I found myself falling asleep as soon as my head hit the sleeping pad.
Happy Birthday to Kyle!! Kyle turned 30 years young today and I think I am more excited than he is. I have sung him happy birthday at least 3 times and gave him my gift- which I secretly bought online and had sent to my parents house, they then sent it in a package so I was able to give it to him today. I got him a backpacking/camping pillow which is something he has been talking about for weeks. It was fun to surprise him (thanks to my parents for being co-conspirators ) and he was thrilled to open it. We only travelled about 10 miles today and then stopped on a big sandy island. The wind is strong against us but also we only have two more days on the Mississippi River before our turn to the Atchaf’. Therefore we are really enjoying our last few days and soaking up the ruggedness of the river. The south has been a pleasant surprise and we thank everyone for all their kindness and support. Onward!